Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

c.2014 New York Times News Service

Apple said Tuesday that it was unaware of the National Security Agency’s efforts to hack into the iPhone and has never facilitated agency efforts to install backdoors into its products.

The Cupertino, Calif., company released a strongly worded statement in response to a recent article in the German magazine Der Spiegel, which reported that NSA analysts refer internally to iPhone users as “zombies” who “pay for their own surveillance.”

“Apple has never worked with the NSA to create a backdoor in any of our products, including iPhone,” an Apple spokeswoman said in an email.

Der Spiegel, however, released a number of slides, detailing the agency’s hacking division — known internally as the Tailored Access Operations, or TAO division. One slide, describing an NSA software implant called DROPOUTJEEP, stood out.

The agency described DROPOUTJEEP as a “software implant for Apple iPhone” that has all kinds of handy spy capabilities. DROPOUTJEEP can pull or push information onto the iPhone, snag SMS text messages, contact lists, voicemail and a person’s geolocation, both from the phone itself and from cell towers in close proximity.

It can also turn the iPhone into a “hot mic,” using the phone’s own microphone as a recording device and capture images via the iPhone’s camera. (Reminder to readers: Masking tape is not a bad idea).

But the Der Spiegel report is based on information that is over five years old. The slide, dated January 2007 and last updated October 2008, claims that the agency requires close physical proximity to the iPhone to install DROPOUTJEEP.

“The initial release of DROPOUTJEEP will focus on installing the implant via close access methods,” the NSA slide says. Then, “A remote installation capability will be pursued for a future release.”

Based on the timing of the report, the agency would have been targeting Apple’s iOS5 operating system. Apple released its latest iOS7 operating system last September.

Nevertheless, privacy activists point out that the agency’s capabilities have expanded, if anything, over the last five years.

“Imagine what they have now,” Christopher Soghoian, a technology adviser at the American Civil Liberties Union, posted on Twitter.

Apple denied any involvement.

“We have been unaware of this alleged NSA program targeting our products,” Apple said in a statement. ”Our team is continuously working to make our products even more secure, and we make it easy for customers to keep their software up to date with the latest advancements.”

The company added, “Whenever we hear about attempts to undermine Apple’s industry-leading security, we thoroughly investigate and take appropriate steps to protect our customers. We will continue to use our resources to stay ahead of malicious hackers and defend our customers from security attacks, regardless of who’s behind them.”